Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning
A "very small and brown" woman with huge eyes, a wide mouth and complicated ringlets, Elizabeth Barrett had barely been out of her teens when she fell ill with a lung condition that kept her confined to a sofa. Robert Browning had read her 1844 collection, Poems, and written to say: "I love your books, dear Miss Barrett, and I love you too." Wary of strangers, she refused to see him for weeks, then relented. After their first meeting, in January 1845, he wrote to her with a passionate declaration. "You do not know what pain you give me," she replied, "speaking so wildly fancies which you will forget at once and forever. I will not see you again." But he meant it, and their courtship flourished. The only obstacle was her father - a bullying tyrant who forbade his children to marry. So Robert persuaded Elizabeth to rise from her chaise longue and elope with him. They were married in London, and left for Florence, where they lived in blissful harmony for 15 years. She wrote her finest sonnets to him ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways") and he dedicated his best work to her.